Mar 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Maybe what makes someone act like a Chaos Climber is just the craving for simplicity: the simplicity of a single enemy, responsible for all evil things. That enemy, of course, is the American Establishment.

But if the only fight worth fighting is "down with Establishment America," then you're going to want, very badly, to find a way to blame the Establishment for whatever's wrong.

Usually that's fine; you can be anti-establishment without being openly crazy. Crime, poverty and sickness? It's because Washington is in the thrall of evil businessmen / evil socialists (choose your side's flavor) who are stealing our money / corrupting our values. Simple! You can say the same lines, every time, and always know you're fighting the good fight.

But then something like "Russia invades Ukraine" happens. What are your lines? How do you blame the establishment for this? It's confusing! Where's your simplicity gone?

Fortunately, Russian propaganda has suggestions you can follow, showing you how to keep it all America's fault. With Russia's kind help, you can go on blaming the establishment.

I guess some people want a little too badly to have One Weird Trick that lets them explain the whole world of politics. Especially a trick that promises they'll always be The Noble Underdog against The Man.

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Anyone who reasons first and foremost from ideology inevitably reaches a stupid conclusion.

You are right that craving for simplicity is the problem. But it's not that we actively search for naive delusions

What happens is over generalization.

People who watched the American government willfully misrepresent and blindly invade Iraq reached the right conclusion that the American government can be a problem.

But now, every other problem on the international scene is regarded as the fault of the American government, even when often it isn't. More ironically, the stance might lead them to endorse more terrible international powers.

The same thing happened with the global meltdown. People learnt that big, powerful banks are greedy and selfish, and we should not sensibly invest in complicated assets that they try to sell.

Which is absolutely true.

But then, they took that conclusion everywhere. Most of the superfans of crypto are people who have been hurt by the current financial system and have now entrusted their capital and faith to an even more greedy, even more complicated financial system.

It's like trading caffeine for heroin. Hypotheses come before data, not after. So, what always matters is not what we see happening but the reasons we think are behind why what we see happening is happening.

For all of us from time to time, those reasons could be nothing more than delusions.

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Mar 21, 2022·edited Mar 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

This is a truly good column, and very much matches my thoughts.

There's one point I must note though: Much of the liberal international order was perfectly willing to let Ukraine fail. Had Putin limited himself to a 'minor incursion' or managed to win within 72 hours - as many analysts expected at the start - he'd have gotten away with it. It's the Ukrainian resistance that deserves most of the credit here, Russia's weakness and corruption the second place, and the international response gets the third place. That's not such a good look.

Now, assuming Putin loses, the big question that remains is how many of the existing order's flaws will be fixed - or whether this episode will lead to overconfidence and return of the reasons that led to the war in the first place. Will the European states remain committed to NATO? Or will they say 'Russia is a paper tiger, no need to invest, not when I can divert funds to my favorite election-winning projects!' Will Russia be abandoned again, or will the West have a realistic policy finally? Will the energy transition advance further? Will the UN remain useless? (ok, nothing to done there) If Russia loses, will the EU try neutrality with China?

1) The extent of EU countries' commitment to NATO remains to be seen. The statements are nice, but that's very easy now. The true test will come a few years from now.

2) There are truly good news on the energy front, at least in EU. In America, the discussion seems to have turned to partisan slinging (and not so many solutions) as usual.

3) Granted, this is a bit in the future, but it's clear many countries will never look at Russia the same way. I expect this to be translated into policy.

So I'd give 1.5 out of 3, for now.

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An interesting thread related to your first point: https://twitter.com/EerikNKross/status/1505669877809483785

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Occam's Razor tells me that there isn't a grand reason. Edgelords do edgelording for a simple reason: they are narcissists who want attention, and edge takes provide that attention.

Looking for a coherent ideology from the rantings of Marjorie Taylor Greene is like analyzing the lyrics of a song sung by a singing dog. You are surprised the dog is barking to music, but if you try to ascribe meaning, you might be barking up the wrong tree.

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Occam's Razor doesn't *tell* things.

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I don't think the pro-Putin folks (or the people you're describing as pro-Putin, who might not consider themselves to be such) care that much about who wins the war. Nor do they care about the effect of the war on the liberal international order. For the most part, they oppose US support for Ukraine because they think US support for Ukraine is bad.

On the right, this is often America-first isolationism. Sometimes it's people who consider Putin an ally in the culture war, which is the only war they care about.

On the left, it's mostly people who will reflexively disagree with anything the US security establishment says.

I'd be curious what portion of the far-right and the far-left support Putin in the war. Just because all the pro-Putin folks are members of the far-right/far-left doesn't mean that all the far-right/far-left are pro-Putin.

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Very true! Just like you had isolationists who didn't want the US to confront Hitler (very few anti-US security Americans then, though you had pacificts). And some of those folks didn't support Hitler (though many did). They weren't pro-Hitler. They just didn't think Hitler slaughtering civilians, destroying peace, and bringing death and destruction to millions of people was something worth confronting (so implicitly we're OK with it).

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I "support" Putin because the enemy of my enemy is my friend (while it serves my purpose).

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That's both immoral and has worked out very, very poorly for a great number of people, tribes, and nations in the past.

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Perhaps - but then keep in mind: the future is not known, even though it may appear otherwise.

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I"ve witnessed a queer socialist fall into online radicalism and side with anti-LGBTQ regimes like Russia simply for the fact they believe America is the source of all evil and anything against America or the mainstream narrative must be "good and true". The radical left and right have strangely found much common ground in their internet rabbit holes and are both angry as hell at "the system" and "mainstream media" and the mysterious "cabal that controls everything". They've both gone full in on the tinfoil hat society. It's kind of disturbing. They also tend to be much older people. . .Nowadays it not the kids to join cults. . . it's their parents!

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Declining mental stability? Why don't these people move to Russia if they think it's so great?

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The symmetry you're proposing between the right and left seems unfair to me. Leading figures on the left, by my observation, have not been acting the same way as leading figures on the right. Bernie has been pretty unequivocal in his condemnation of Putin. Moreover, here is Chomsky on the invasion of Ukraine: "Before turning to the question, we should settle a few facts that are uncontestable. The most crucial one is that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a major war crime, ranking alongside the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Hitler-Stalin invasion of Poland in September 1939, to take only two salient examples. It always makes sense to seek explanations, but there is no justification, no extenuation." (https://truthout.org/articles/noam-chomsky-us-military-escalation-against-russia-would-have-no-victors/)

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Chat with "The Squad" and people like Ilhan Omar.

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“I condemn in the strongest possible terms Vladimir Putin’s reckless, illegal invasion of Ukraine. My thoughts are with the Ukrainian civilians who have already suffered immensely and are again suffering the brunt of this terrible conflict. We must continue to support diplomacy even as it becomes more difficult – though it is becoming harder to imagine, this could still escalate to something much more devastating.

“I support sanctions that are targeted at Putin, his oligarchs, and the Russian military, including and especially targeted at their offshore assets. But I will continue to oppose broad-based sanctions that would amount to collective punishment of a Russian population that did not choose this. I am heartened that the Biden Administration has included humanitarian exemptions and general licenses to the first tranche of sanctions, but I am also aware that exemptions and licenses have never been sufficient to prevent indiscriminate human suffering.

“Finally, we must direct some of the unity and resolve that we and our partners have shown in this crisis toward the civilians that are in harm’s way. This includes making allowances for humanitarian organizations to operate in sanctioned territory, and it also includes preparing to welcome the likely influx of refugees fleeing the conflict. As always, the countries immediately bordering Ukraine will face the greatest burden. The United States should lead by example and begin to resettle refugees here as soon as it becomes necessary. “


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I was posting this because, while I may not agree with all of Ilhan Omar's full take, I feel her position has been overgeneralized. She offers a fairly nuanced view, as can be seen in her press release above.

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One thing I wanted to add -

For many right-wingers (definitely Le Pen in France, quite likely Trump in the USA), there is also the simplest of reason - hard cash.

Putin has been bankrolling quite a few 'conservative insurgency' in order to create that chaos he too hoped to strive on...

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One of these things is not like the others. Seems like a huge distortion to count #1 and #3 as "pro-Putin" views. One could hate Putin's guts and still accept both of them. #2 is obviously more robustly pro-Putin.

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#1 is tricky, especially since there are at least two flavors of #1.

There are some people who argue #1 on a purely strategic basis, that an expected consequence of expanding NATO was a conflict like this. I don't think that this view is any more pro-Putin than advice that you shouldn't walk through a bad neighborhood at night is pro-mugger. However, I'm not sure that this is what Smith is talking about, as this view is more of an "I told you so" explanation, than a prescription about what should be done now. You could think that admitting much of Eastern Europe into NATO was a strategically bad idea and still think that, now that we are in this mess, supporting Ukraine is the best solution and/or the morally right solution.

On the other hand, there are people who argue that the US/NATO and Russia are essentially morally equivalent, that expanding NATO into Eastern Europe was a morally wrong act against Russia and now Russia is morally justified in invading Ukraine in response in order to ensure its own security and/or maintain a sphere of influence to which it is entitled. This view suggests that the US/NATO should mind our own business and let Putin conquer Ukraine and is just as much a pro-Putin view as #2.

For the record, I am relatively convinced that NATO's expansion was not a significant cause of Putin invading Ukraine. It seems that Putin's invasion is premised upon a view that Russia needs to regain its former greatness, than any concern over NATO expansion. However, I do question whether it was a good idea, as I think it may create some weakness (or worse, perceived weakness) in Art. 5, as I think there is more of a question whether the major NATO countries are willing to start WWIII, and/or a nuclear war, over the invasion of Estonia than an invasion of France or the UK.

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I do not want to put words into Noah’s mouth but I think what he was trying to point out is that when someone argues that the eastward expansion of NATO was an act of Western aggression then you are aiding Putin’s argumentation.

There is a distinction between casting NATO as a tool of “American Empire” and as a defensive alliance.

If you see it as the former characterization you see NATO as an imperial and aggressive organization designed to destroy Russia. But you also remove the agency of the many Central and Eastern European countries who actively sought NATO membership.

It comes down to whether you think small countries should have a vote about their security and domestic policy or not.

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This is the second "flavor" of this argument that I was getting at. There's a difference between arguing that the invasion of Ukraine was an expected response to expanding NATO and arguing that it was a justified response to expanding NATO, and only the latter is really pro-Putin.

As somewhat of an aside and somewhat of a follow up to what I said above, I am not convinced that NATO should be an "anyone can join" sort of organization. Collective self-defense is a big commitment and NATO should think carefully before it signs up to expand this commitment. It doesn't do anyone any good if NATO admits a country where, if it comes down to it, its members would not actually have the political will to go to war to defend that country.

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Fair point on one “flavor” being descriptive and the other normative.

Regarding the expansion of NATO I think the real prize for the Alliance would have been effectively incorporating Russia into it when the question was seriously explored in the 1990s.

I think such a move would have “flipped the script” with what we are seeing today. It would have resulted in Russia securing it’s entire Northern, Western and Far Eastern flank. But it was not to be I suppose.

However, the thought experiment illustrates that NATO is as much a keeper of the peace between its component members as it is outside powers. Historic enemies such as France and Germany, UK and France, etc…are now pledged to each other’s mutual defense.

Not bad for a continent which has generally been in a state of hot or slow-burn war since the fall of Rome.

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I agree with most of this (although I think it's likely this war would never have happened if NATO hadn't expanded and gone into Kosovo without UN permission). But I also think it isn't pro-Putin to say, for example, that the dangers of supporting Ukraine are not worth it and we should let it go. That isn't my view, but it's not pro-Putin either.

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On a recent episode of Ezra Klien's podcast, Masha Gessen made a pretty good argument that the perceived slight from NATO going into Kosovo was a significant factor in Putin's desire to restore Russian greatness. I wouldn't be surprised if expanding NATO also played into this. However, I think both are still more second-order causes of the war than often claimed.

I'm personally at least sympathetic to the "not worth it" claim and have a reply somewhere in here explaining why I don't think it's not necessarily a pro-Putin view.

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You can see this here as well. The GOP reps who voted against the oil ban are exactly the far-right lunatics you'd expect while the Dems were...Cori Bush and Ilhan Omar (but she's all cool with BDS, which should tell us what her true ideology is).

I think that if every Putin-Versteher were primaried out that politics would get a lot better.


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> Cori Bush and Ilhan Omar (but she's all cool with BDS, which should tell us what her true ideology is).

Maybe it should, but that's still a bit elliptical. Is "she" Bush or Omar, and what can we deduce is "her true ideology"?

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>Is "she" Bush or Omar,

The latter.

>and what can we deduce is "her true ideology"?

Corbynism and antisemitism:


'“Israel has hypnotized the world,” she tweeted in 2012. “May Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” '



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Thanks for clarifying your target. I notice that all of your sources are months old, pre-dating Russia's (re)invasion of Ukraine, and none of them mention Omar's recent vote or BDS. Your inference about Omar's "true ideology" doesn't actually seem to follow from her views on BDS and sanctions on Russian oil, especially if it's based on pre-2022 evidence.

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I would think that people know that by now, but here you go:



>and none of them mention Omar's recent vote or BDS.

Does it not strike one as hypocritical that she would vote to sanction Israel and not Russia? Given her votes and everything else I posted, it's a fair inference (and you've provided nothing to the contrary).

Is there any evidence that her views have changed from the citations I gave?

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My turn to clarify! I don't dispute that Omar supports BDS. I was just struck by your reaching for old evidence to warrant your charge of antisemitism, given the original claim that we could infer Omar's antisemitism just by juxtaposing her recent opposition to Russian-oil sanctions and her BDS support.

Voting to sanction Israel but not Russia could be hypocritical, but isn't necessarily hypocritical if there's good reason behind it. For instance, if I thought that sanctions would change Israel's behavior but not Russia's (maybe just because Israel's so much smaller than Russia), that could non-hypocritically justify supporting sanctions on Israel and opposing sanctions on Russia.

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>I was just struck by your reaching for old evidence to warrant your charge of antisemitism, given the original claim that we could infer Omar's antisemitism just by juxtaposing her recent opposition to Russian-oil sanctions and her BDS support.

Way to blow past her other statements that I linked. Unless there's evidence that she's changed her views, I'll stick to what I said.

>Voting to sanction Israel but not Russia could be hypocritical, but isn't necessarily hypocritical if there's good reason behind it. For instance, if I thought that sanctions would change Israel's behavior but not Russia's (maybe just because Israel's so much smaller than Russia), that could non-hypocritically justify supporting sanctions on Israel and opposing sanctions on Russia.

Come on, read up on what you're discussing.


'"That's not only going to have a devastating impact on the people of Russia, but on Europe as well," Omar said'

Apparently devastating impacts are bad for Russians but all good for Israelis. I wonder what the difference is.

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>I was just struck by your reaching for old evidence...

In general, a public servant should be judged by a different standard. Public servants who have made bigoted statements are the ones who should recant, and if not, should be considered to still hold their 'old' opinions. First, because the effects of electing a bad apple may not be easily reversible. Second, risk of legitimizing bigotry. Third, we're not holding them to trial, at most people want to elect someone else.

So 'old' evidence should be perfectly admissible _if_ it's correct and relevant.

> Voting to sanction Israel but not Russia could be hypocritical, but isn't necessarily hypocritical if there's good reason behind it... if I thought that sanctions would change Israel's behavior but not Russia's

This does not engage with the substance of Omar's position. She has supposedly humanitarian concerns against sanctions in general. If so, these concerns shouldn't disappear when the sanctions are supposedly more likely to succeed or more justified etc. After all, arguments in favor of sanctions do not make their affect on civilians smaller. To be consistent she'll need to always have these humanitarian concerns. In almost all cases Omar has these concerns and only on one case she does not ever have any. I won't judge her motives, but consistent with her stated reasoning this is not.

Aside, what's being asked of Russia at the moment is something most Russians (excluding Putin) should be able to easily tolerate - it's basically status quo ante. There are people who think the West should go further, but the question hasn't come up yet. While BDS is far more radical, ergo BDS's odds of success were always tiny.

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Abolish The Primaries is the extremist slogan we should all actually be getting behind.

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Hard to say. Who do you think will show up to a caucus/convention? That's right, the most fired up and extreme people. If there were multiple parties, this would make more sense.

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Chicken or egg. ATP, like DTP, is an incomplete slogan.

Replacing primaries with the Alaska system would seem promising.

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I think this article works for the Right, and sort of for the left, though I don't see a path to those type of leftists taking over the Democratic Party, but I do think it misses one important group, I think the most numerous, though maybe calling them a group is incorrect as they are by their nature so dispersed and that is the Grifters.

There are a lot of ppl who have discovered that Social Media is a way to gather quite lucrative niches, these niches might be less than a 10th of a 10th a percent of 'your side' of politics, but if u r getting $7 a month to subscribe to your Substack or Patreon or GoFundMe or whatever, you only need to get 3,000 or so and you are on really really good money, then all the incentives are to keep feeding this group what they want, this doesn't require intellect or contacts or talent to make it in mainstream politics or media, they don't have much hope or even really desire to gain real power, but if they can keep talking to their little niche & most importantly keep getting paid from them they don't have to go and get an actual job and work for a living

Look at Glenn Greenwald, a truly vile person who has no hope of even gaining any real power on the left, even though that is where he picked up his first fans, then he used the Bernie campaign to join the anti-Democratic Party part of the left, before moving to anti-anti-Trumpism, you see his Substack numbers and he is getting more than 100,000 subscribers, a tiny number when it comes to actual impact politically, but $70,000 a month is a massive incentive to keep feeding cranks what it is they want to hear. Now FWIW I believe Greenwald does genuinely hold all his vile views, so maybe he isn't be best example, same goes for Taibbi who made the same journey, but for those any many others $70,000-$150,000 per month per month is a huge incentive to keep feeding cranks what they want to hear, hell even 10% of that is a great incentive to keep doing so, especially if you don't like the idea of working for a living

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Sounds plausible. These chaos climbers are of course exactly the opposite of what anyone should want in government. They want power but have no real idea what to do with it more than whatever benefits them and gives them more power, i.e. more chaos.

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In the 1990s the liberal order talked about reform, occasionally passing unpopular but necessary legislation. Faith that this can and will happen again is a recurring theme here. I sincerely hope that after this or maybe the next enemy is slain we can get busy with reforming pensions etc. Its pretty shattering to lose faith.

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Oh no, banning the PSPU, the party that allies itself with David Duke and Lyndon LaRouche on their shared anti-semitism and supports Dugin's "Eurasianism". Whatever shall we do when fascists who support enemies in wartime are banned?

They're about as socialist as the NSDAP.

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ProudGrifter isn't capable of deep thought.

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As Steve Grumbine recently observed, somewhat belatedly: "there is no international law".

And logic tells us that to establish international law, you need an ICJ backed by a UNSC minus each member's veto. Otherwise you just have nations acting in their own perceived interests, while claiming to be part of a "rules based system".

...which is the trap Noah is falling into, in this article.

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Where did I use the phrase "rules-based"? Did I use it even once, or did you make up someone to argue with?

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This is the reference which I had in mind: "Both the liberal center-Left and the conservative center-Right are basically committed to *upholding the global liberal order*.

I see I made the mistake of equating your statement with a "rules-based system" . .... which liberals are so fond of using, to distance themselves from "authoritarian" regimes'.

No i'm not looking for someone to argue with., I'm alarmed we haven't yet established *workable international law* (as described in my OP) , in the age of MAD. ...which is why we are all sitting around watching Ukraine get pulverized, because Russia is armed with nuclear weapons.

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Mar 26, 2022·edited Mar 26, 2022

> which is why we are all sitting around watching Ukraine get pulverized, because Russia is armed with nuclear weapons.

Technically, there are thousands if not millions of plausible "why's" that led us to this point, depending on how finely one wants to slice and dice counterfactual causality. I'd even say that early 21st century Humanity's almost complete ignorance of things like causality might be a very big part of The Root Problem.

I do agree with your criticism of Noah though.

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Workable international law is impossible unless one entity has a monopoly (or close to a monopoly) on force. Hence why unipolar eras tend to be the most peaceful times in human history.

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It is a perceptive observation you have there.

But that is only true for everyone except the unipolar power, who of course, becomes the exception to the rules and laws it eagerly subjects everyone else to.

Hobbes forgot that in his Leviathan. The omission has been repeated several times. This is one more repetition.

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Yes, just like the state, unconstrained, can do horrible things.

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Of course. That is the point. The unipolar power isn't just going to constrain itself, certainly not for long and certainly not when its interests are at stake regardless of what the rest of the world feels about that. It has never happened and it will never happen.

The argument defeats itself on its own terms no less. One of the best arguments for the state is to restrict stronger or more powerful individuals from hurting the weak or less powerful. But the state, when it's not democratic, then becomes the central bully.

It's the same with the unipolar power. No one can argue that the unipolar power keeps everyone else in check on the right assumption that they won't keep themselves in check and then contradict this by assuming the unipolar power, which is even more powerful, will then keep itself in check.

Self-policing is a pipedream.

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The post WW2 unipolar world is rapidly coming to an end. China is expected to have the world's most powerful economy in a decade., so we will soon have two centers of power in the world. Africa, M.E, and ASEAN etc are already looking eastward, to the world's largest trading nation.

What you consider is impossible might well be the necessity, if we are to survive the age of MAD. In effect, world disarmament with security guaranteed by a UNSC speaking with one voice (as described in my OP) , having sole access to nuclear weapons.

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I am not so sure the PRC is the rising hegemon it is made out to be. A lot of analysts are becoming much more bearish on its prospects unless it can successfully implement some very serious reforms.

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Notice that supporters of the "liberal world order" claim international law (as outlined in my OP) is impossible. Noah has not replied but I suspect he also regards international law as impossible. Richard even ponders IF humans can survive the age of MAD, implying extinction is preferable to international law. Jeremy Giffith of WTM refers to this predicament as "the human psychosis".

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I agree with this. In fact, even under good conditions, China is likely to top out just a bit ahead of the US in economic size (and well below the US per capita) due to horrible demographics.

And given the choice between aligning with the West or India or an autocratic (threatening) China, I doubt ASEAN or Africa will choose an autocratic China.

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That won't happen, so we'll have to survive the world of MAD some other way, just like we did in Cold War I (or we won't survive it).

I mean, do you seriously believe China or Russia would give up their nukes?

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Or you don't really have international law or a rules-based system, period. What's the trap?

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Wrote a lengthy twitter thread: the TL;DR version is we're living in a 1930s - esque moment where several actors benefit from weakening America/theWest's power on the world stage. The current liberal order works against countries attempting to conquer neighbors. Russia, China, and others are stymied from conquering nations (or at least dominating them) in their near abroad. Putin's invasion of Ukraine is less a miss calculation, although it is that too, than an attempt to break America's stranglehold on Russia's ability to exert its influence.

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Wow, this post really brought out the leftist Putin-Versteher. A hit dog will holler.

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